[Viewpoint] Tired of ‘security fatigue syndrome’

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[Viewpoint] Tired of ‘security fatigue syndrome’

With the Cuban Missile Crisis and Fourth Arab-Israeli War, Washington learned two very important lessons in crisis management. One was the need to heighten “crisis communication ability” as a crisis elevates. The other was to display the capacity for force when necessary to enhance credibility.

During the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, the United States clearly conveyed to the Soviet Union that it was willing to fight a battle to prevent a war. That determination ultimately won the concession of the Soviet Union. Later, Washington displayed outstanding crisis management skills by installing a hot line between the United States and the Soviet Union later.

During the Fourth Arab-Israeli War in 1973, Washington spotted signs of the Soviets’ military intervention, and immediately brought its nuclear readiness to bear. By parading its nuclear capacity, the United States held back the Soviet Union and the war ended in its early stages, providing a turning point for the Middle East peace talks at the Camp David.

Today, Seoul and Pyongyang are both experiencing “security fatigue syndrome.” The South has invoked a national security alert and begun strong sanctions against the North. At the same time, Seoul has taken the Cheonan incident to the United Nations Security Council.

But despite the South’s security measures, many people have bought into Pyongyang’s propaganda, and authorities failed to prevent “security fatigue syndrome” from spreading. In other words, the South already has been pushed by the North’s psychological offensive as Pyongyang carried the war into the enemy’s camp - and no one even knows yet what kind of absurd provocation scheme the North is devising over the local election results.

The situation is not so simple on the North Korean side, either. The Cheonan incident clearly illustrates that North Korea’s military adventurism has passed the critical point and its internal divisions have placed it beyond control. If it is not forcibly controlled - even if that means bringing in external pressure - Pyongyang may find itself in even greater jeopardy.

In short, the North Korean leaders are suffering from their own security fatigue syndrome because of the legacy of Kim Il Sung. The late Kim’s policy was to “maintain tension with South Korea when internal tension escalates,” and Pyongyang is still following that direction 16 years after his death. The conflict and confrontation between the doves and the hawks over the succession of power is an offshoot of the security fatigue in the North.

Greater challenges await South and North Korea down the road. Can Seoul and Pyongyang turn the present crisis into an opportunity, as the United States and the Soviet Union did decades ago? Needless to say, that depends on how forcefully and consistently Seoul takes the initiative and displays its crisis management skills.

Most of all, Seoul should steadfastly adhere to the spirit and principles it declared in its May 24 announcement on the Cheonan crisis, and maintain strong deterrence against the North.

Only when North Korean leaders “trust” Seoul’s consistency will there be an opportunity for dialogue. Only when Pyongyang does not doubt Seoul’s willingness and capability to impose sanctions will it realize that time is not on its side. The six-decade-long history of inter-Korean relations proves this well.

Of course, a more fundamental challenge for the South Korean government is winning the trust of its citizens. If the South Korean people do not trust the authorities, Pyongyang will more aggressively pursue its psychological offensive and will certainly bring about another crisis in the vicious circle. Because of this risk, President Lee Myung-bak has emphasized the importance of establishing a solid national identity and a more unification-oriented security policy.

We need to discuss a peace system while firmly defending the border along the demarcation line. The North’s psychological offensives on our home front should be strictly controlled when we promote “unification projects” such as inter-Korean exchanges and cooperation.

All of South Korea has been badly shaken by the torpedoing of the Cheonan and the recent investigation of a two-star South Korean general surnamed Kim for allegedly leaking classified military information to the North.

Simply put, security is crumbling inside and out.

At this point, we need to learn an important lesson from the unification of Germany. The driving force of Germany’s unification was West Germany’s powerful and effective policy of displaying overwhelming power against East Germany. At one point, there were more than 20,000 East German spies and collaborators operating in West Germany, but West Germany eventually was victorious in the secret war.

*The writer is the ambassador on International Security Affairs.
Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

By Nam Joo-hong
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